A Few Thoughts From Bren
It’s Holy Week. In a Holy Week past someone said to me, “It’s just another week. I don’t feel anything.” I found myself responding – and what I said surprised me – “It was just another week to me, too, until I decided it wasn’t going to be.” The decision isn’t one I make once and it’s done. This Easter mindset is a decision to make over and over and over again. I choose to practice faith even when my faith falters. I choose to invite faith to permeate me even when cynicism threatens to take hold.
We intentionally gather as disciples. We share the stories of the first followers of Jesus. We feel their bewilderment as we do our own. We acknowledge their doubt, as we are honest about our own. We face their uncertainty as we admit our own. We can be helped to see and believe by looking through their eyes and by looking through their faith. We can do the same by looking at the lives of those throughout history who have taken Jesus seriously. This was made very real to me as I witnessed the gathering at the Koinonia Family Reunion and Koinonia’s 75th Birthday Party that culminated the Symposium. I stood in awe of those people who came before us reuniting in fellowship. Their presence enkindled the fire of belief in us.
Easter is more than a beautiful spring festival, but Easter won’t force itself on us. Easter can change us, make us different and make us new, but we have to invite it in and allow it to permeate our very being.
Shane Claiborne and I co-presented a pre-symposium workshop on community at the recent Clarence Jordan Symposium. I am always learning from Shane. As I listened to him, I was reminded of something he wrote, “The Jesus revolution is not a frontal attack on the empires of this world. It is a subtle contagion, spreading one little life, one little hospitality house at a time.”
I’m also reminded of what Shane wrote about mustard. Mustard was the kudzu of Jesus’ time and people didn’t like it. But in the Roman Empire that held sway over Jesus’ Palestine, mustard was a sign of power known for its healing properties. It had to be crushed and ground to become a medicinal salve.
Jesus compared the God Movement (as Clarence called it) to a tiny mustard seed that grows and grows. Oh, that the mustard will take over our garden. There is no promise it will be easy —mustard seeds have to be crushed before they can heal. This Easter may we have those full hearts of transformed disciples of which Clarence Jordan wrote and may the loving revolution spread. And on days our hearts aren’t full, let’s search for a little more mustard. May it be in us, may it spread out from us, and may it heal us all.
Happy Easter, everyone.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
There are more than a few thoughts rattling around in my mind. Koinonia Farm has turned 75 and next week (March 8-11) we are taking four days to celebrate. The Clarence Jordan Symposium kicks off at the farm with Pre-Symposium workshops. At the end of that day, we travel into town for the Symposium opening at the First Baptist Church and it closes Saturday evening at the First Methodist Church with a whole lot of activity going on in between. Sunday will find us back at the farm enjoying the Koinonia Family Reunion and Birthday Party. Yes, my head feels like one gigantic “to do list.”
But I have been living this life at Koinonia long enough now that I know what to do — I get out of my head and into my heart. When I am drowning in the myriad of detail — and likely taking myself far too seriously — I stop. I find quiet whether it be external or internal. I sit down or go for slow walk. I let my thoughts and my heart wander for a while.
What I find in the heart today is a sense of wonder about Koinonia Farm. This place and its people have been through many ups and downs. How have we made it to 75 years? My heart bumps into lyrics from a Beatles song — “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Then it wanders into the Gospel of Luke.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. In my fifteen years here , I have witnessed the tender mercy offered to everyone. Tender compassion runs through the veins of the farm. It is not that we wouldn’t be compassionate people elsewhere, but there is something special here. Some would call it God’s Holy Spirit.
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Humility does not always come easy. We often quote Abraham Lincoln, “Don’t I defeat my enemy when I make him my friend?” Koinonia is about building relationships, not tearing them down. Sometimes we stumble, but we are quick to stand back up. Koinonia is about friendship and sisterhood and brotherhood.
Forgive and you will be forgiven. Ahhhhh, there is no shortage of opportunities to forgive one another and ourselves. We live in a world of humans. We work to intentionally forgive. We try not to let hurts fade into scars, but to approach others to say, “I’m sorry” and to seek reconciliation.
Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you. I wonder if John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inspired by this passage when they wrote, ““the love you take is equal to the love you make.” The love at Koinonia Farm is tangible. Love is given even when there is little else to give. For many of our 75 years we have struggled financially. But we freely give our most abundant resource — love. And it is returned to us and we keep going.
That love is what we’ll be celebrating next week. Whether you will be with us or not, we send you our love. Thank you for sending yours.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
Steve is a novice in our community. He often reminds me of that familiar line:, “He is wiser than his years.” In Steve’s case it is absolutely no cliché. I especially love his chapel talks. Recently, he gave one on the Parable of the Sower and once again I benefited from his wisdom.
These days at Koinonia, Steve oversees the vegetable gardens so he certainly knows something about sowing seeds. Perhaps because of this, the sower in this parable caught my imagination. Steve is a good preparer of the soil. He is not so silly as to scatter seed on the paths where we walk or on rocky ground or among the thorns. He nurtures the soil by feeding it with compost tea. He works with that hard, sticky, red Georgia clay and turns it into a more receptive and hospitable environment for the seeds soon to be sown. He takes away rocks and he pulls weeds. He waters the ground.
As I was reflecting about Steve as sower and listening to what he was sharing with us, I was struck by the thought, “He is a good preparer of the soil of our souls.” We all have our failings, our thorns and our stones. We can be full of weeds. Each of us has the responsibility to work the soil within our own souls. Steve reminded us of the need for discipline to do the necessary work. We are to make time for prayer and spiritual reading in the privacy of our homes.
But he also gave me the insight that in community, as sisters and brothers, we are to help work the soul soil of the other. Steve has many a time supported me in removing a rock or grabbing a handful of weeds within my own soul and pitching them. Koinonia is a place where the Word is sown throughout each and every day communally — at chapel in the morning, at meals, at Gathered Worship. Koinonia is a place where we work the physical land and we work the soul land. By working the soil of both, the yield just may be what we hope for or beyond.
Steve is a sower who prepares the soil well and because he does, God’s Word has a chance to take root.
And that is a very good thing.
A Few Thoughts from Bren
I Love Baseball
If you’re from Houston, Texas like I am, this has been a great year to love baseball. What a Christmas gift the Houston Astros gave to the city and to fans far and wide. Here at Koinonia I’m known for using baseball metaphors. The Astros have inspired me to do so even more in 2017. Bear with me.
Baseball is spiritual. It’s all about coming home. It’s a great metaphor about life and about dying. Baseball is full of sounds. I love them all — the crack of the bat as it makes contact with the ball, the crunch of cleats as the runner sprints for first, the thud of the shoe as the player rounds the base and oh, the roar of the crowd as he races for home. Getting home … that’s what it’s about, but how often does it happen? Someone who bats around .300 is considered a good hitter. That means two thirds of the time the hitter is out, she has failed. She may hit the ball, but someone catches it or someone throws it to a base she’s trying to reach. Maybe it’s a force out or maybe he’s tagged, but he’s out. But there is going to be another turn at bat. There is the thrill of another chance. Those who hit at the top to the middle of the order often get four at bats in a game. Four chances to hit. Baseball is such a hopeful game.
Jesus is even more hopeful than baseball. There is an icon that’s a favorite among Christians belonging to the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Churches. It depicts Christ descending into the world of the dead, setting captives free even to the point of finding Adam and Eve and pulling them out of their graves. The truth the artist conveys is Christ reaching all the way back to our human beginnings. Reaching even through death for everyone — all of us.
Jesus is clear — “Love one another.” Loving one another is about dying to self. In baseball there’s something called a sacrifice. A runner is on first base. To get him to second, the batter bunts the ball. She lays down a sacrifice. The hope is the runner gets to second and into scoring position even though the batter is likely thrown out at first. Or a runner is on third. The batter lifts a long, high fly ball, but the outfielder catches it. That’s all right. The batter is out, but the runner tags third base and makes it home ahead of the throw to the plate.
Loving one another is about making sacrifices for one another. Many seem to be in touch with this in a special way during Christmas time. It seems we are more trusting, more cooperative and more forgiving. The light is just a bit brighter this time of year. Read the Scripture readings of these days — Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, poor shepherds, angels, well-to- do wise men and even John in the womb point to this baby named Jesus.
Jesus shows us how to live. We keep going up to the plate even when we fail two thirds of the time. We don’t stop trying. The bat meets the ball, we see the ball going, going, gone; we touch all the bases. If we strike out, well … if Jesus came and pitched his tent with us and if Jesus reached, as depicted by that artist in the icon, for Adam and Eve in the grave, isn’t he reaching for us? Always. His longing for us never ceases — strike out or homerun.
I love baseball. Houston waited a long time. I love Christmas. We wait all year. Jesus is always reaching no matter the season. Merry Christmas.
Live My Life
In a play I wrote, Irish Mist, the central character, Jamie O’Hanlon, refuses to use the word “friend.” She also never speaks the word “love.” To her, both words are empty — spoken frequently, but rarely meaning anything beyond the superficial and shallow. Of course, if you know anything about dramatic writing, the play has to be about friendship and the deep, abiding love that can come with it. And it is.
In a social science study I read a few years ago, data showed that the average close relationship lasts seven years. What does “close” mean in the context of this study? How does the data and the vision of friendship it offers square with “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)?” To me, there is something longer than seven years in that verse.
Numbers are on our mind at Koinonia these days — in particular, the number 75. What does it mean to live in a religious community that turned 75 years old this year? Data doesn’t support the likelihood of a community like ours making it this long. Perhaps the world would tell us that Koinonia, therefore, is a success and has a bright future ahead. I see that word “success” and recall what Clarence Jordan, one of our co-founders, shared in an interview not too long before he died: “We are called not to be successful but to be faithful. I hope the future will find us faithful.”
In an article published a few months after his death, Clarence was quoted, “…Love is never ‘strategic.’ The minute you love your wife so that she will cook you a steak, it isn’t love any more but a polluted form of selfishness. You believe deep down that love does good, but that’s not the reason you love. You love for love’s own sake. Ours [Koinonia] has been a struggle for integrity. What will come of it? I hope we can say, ‘We’ve been obedient.’”
But to what are we faithful and obedient? Are we to be faithful and obedient to social and political causes? As good and worthwhile as causes are, I do not believe this is it. Isn’t there something before? Shouldn’t there be something deeper, something out of which the work for causes is born? Are we to be faithful and obedient to Jesus? What in the world does that mean and how are we to know if we are? What would the core be?
Simplified, Jesus said, “Live my life.” Simplified, Jesus said, “Be friends.” At Koinonia, we struggle to be faithful and obedient to this way of friendship, to this way of love. We love our neighbor and our enemies. We welcome. We serve.
And we long for others to come live this way of life with us. We pray for more friends willing to lay down their lives, pick up Jesus’ life, and live out their days with us. There is no greater love.
August 9 is a day of anniversaries. It marks both the day the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the day Michael Brown was killed. Regardless of political alignments, it cannot be argued this day holds loss of life and lack of peace. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end to World War II, but they certainly did not bring about world peace. Wars continued after the bombs fell and the half-century following was filled with unease and fear of more bombs.
In the days following Michael Brown’s death in 2014, people were quick to place their own personal politics over the situation, deciding who was right and who was wrong. Social media became a battleground filled with anger and a sense of injustice. Heroes were lauded and villains were maligned. Everyday conversations quickly turned to issues of race and systemic injustice. Peace seemed far from anyone’s words or thoughts.
In the dining hall on Koinonia Farm, the community lights a candle everyday at lunch to remind its members to pray for peace. The candle serves as a concrete symbol for an often abstract and difficult charge: peace through reconciliation. Usually someone reads a biography of a peacemaker to educate and inspire those eating lunch. In a dining hall of anywhere from 20-50 people, one can safely assume not everyone is in agreement across political or religious opinions. But one thing every member of the community commits to is working for peace through reconciliation.
One thing that stood out in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown was the amount of angry voices and opinions flying around. People were literally and figuratively shouting at one another. Anger certainly has its place and injustice should be called out, fought against, and stopped. But it felt like a whole lot of shouting and talking and opining without any listening. In the face of such big problems as racial tension and loss of life, the solutions must be complicated and nuanced. The only way to work toward peace and reconciliation is to listen: to hear what each side is saying, to understand why people are angry, to realize different people experience life in very different ways.
The problems of injustice and racial tensions in this nation need people willing to sit down with others who do not look like them or think like them to listen. Just listening will not solve all the problems and this is not a call to sit down and stop talking about uncomfortable issues. Instead, it is an encouragement to begin with listening. The conversation does not need more opinions. It needs more people willing to listen and learn from each other. And maybe this small step- much like the small symbol of lighting a candle- will be a way to begin to reconcile and bring about peace.
Now, a year later, one is tempted to ask if the problems have been solved yet and realize with despair that the world seems no closer to peace than it did a year ago. Christians pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, but this prayer can often be more discouraging than anything. More people have died since Michael Brown. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did end World War II, but they certainly did not end all war. It is tempting to forget one tragedy in the wake of a new tragedy. Every day is a new anniversary for someone’s death, another injustice, another natural disaster. The work for peace through reconciliation is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who can pray even when it seems nothing will ever change. It is for those who chose to listen day after day even when the angry rhetoric seems never ending. It is for those who understand the power of even the smallest move toward reconciliation.
Peace through reconciliation is not easy, but it is good and necessary work that can be done by anyone anywhere. All it takes is a willingness to show up, offer grace and a listening ear, and have faith that small steps lead to big changes.